If you’re planning to look for a new job this year, you’re not alone.
Which might leave you wondering: How, exactly, does one get noticed in a crowded, motivated pool of applicants? Sure, you can read the job description, but how can you know what hiring managers are really looking for? Which applicants stand out from a stack of resumes? Which sail through the interview process? And — most importantly — how can you be one of those successful candidates?
We figured the best way to find out would be go to the source itself, so we sat down with HR pros and hiring managers at 11 top tech companies that partner with The Muse, like HBO, Comcast, Homeaway and Eventbrite and got some intel on what they’re looking for in 2016.
Some of what we learned was obvious: Tech jobs are booming (you may have heard?), and today’s companies are looking for people who aren’t only masters of their craft, but passionate about their work and their employer.
But we also found something surprising: Many of the qualities hiring managers are after seem to contradict each other. For instance, employers want people who think like entrepreneurs and have a take-charge mindset — but who also learn from others and play nice on the team. They want employees who are confident in their skills and accomplishments — but who also remain humble in what they don’t know.
In these cases, showing off both sets of skills may seem challenging (or leave you wondering how one person could possibly check all the boxes). But fear not. We’ve broken down what we learned and translated what you need to do to strike the perfect balancing act into 8 rules for getting hired in 2016.
Here they are — complete with tips straight from the mouths of hiring managers.
1. Prove you can hit the ground running, then learn along the way
Regardless of the position, we look for candidates who posses a results-driven way of looking at things. We identified the traits that the most successful people at our company possess, something we call the Success Formula, and we are able to structure interview questions that will really gauge if a candidate will succeed here. No matter what skills we are hiring them for, they need to be able to show metrics around how they define success.
— Kristy Sundjaja, chief of staff and global head of People Group at LivePerson
No matter what your skill set, companies want to feel confident that you’re an expert at it (at least to the level necessary for the role you’re applying to). In most cases, employers aren’t hiring you to train you — they’re hiring you to jump in and do the job.
So, leave hiring managers with no question that you’re ready to do just that. For every job you’re applying to, read the responsibilities and skills listed on the job description carefully, and then tailor your resume and prepare stories for your interview that show you fit the bill. Too many people expect prospective employers to read between the lines of their experience — and get their resumes tossed in the “no” pile. Instead, be deliberate about showing the hiring manager that you’ve successfully done this job before, and are ready to do it again.
That said, organizations want to feel comfortable that you’d be able to adapt to their preferences, new tools on the market or just better ways of doing things. They want to know you’re sure of your ways, but not set in them. “We look for life-long learners, who are always in pursuit of growth in their career and personal development,” shares Julia Hartz, president and co-founder of Eventbrite. “In many ways, a skilled engineer is always learning. They are eager to adapt and adopt new skills and languages,” adds Terrell Sledge, technical recruiter at Sailthru.
An easy way to show this? Share an anecdote of a time you changed your ways because of something new you learned or adapted what you know to the situation at hand. You can also illustrate that you’re open to different ways of doing things by inquiring about the methods of the company you’re interviewing with. For example, after sharing how you approached growing an email subscriber base, ask the hiring manager what her approach has been up until this point. Not only will it show how interested you are in the company (more on that below), it’ll hint at an interest in learning from the people around you.
2. Be ready to show off cross disciplinary skill sets
At a quickly growing startup like The Muse, our diverse teams work incredibly closely with each other. So we look for people who can easily collaborate with people outside of their skill set: developers who understand the broader business side of things, for example, or non-technical people who can communicate with product and engineering in an effective way.
— Kathryn Minshew, CEO and co-founder of The Muse
This probably won’t come as a shock, but tech skills are in high demand. A full 100% of the hiring managers we talked to cited engineers as the number one hires they’re looking to make this year — and this demand isn’t slowing down anytime soon. The Bureau of Labor statistics anticipate a 22% growth in software engineering roles from 2012 to 2022 — twice the average growth of other roles. “First, Android and iOS developers roles are huge for us, and hard to hire for. Second, we need Software Development Engineers in Test (SDETs), folks who are traditionally software developers, but develop test frameworks. We’re also looking for full stack developers who focus on frontend and middleware. Finally, we need site reliability engineers — people who can help us get a system up and running,” shares Jessica Sant, senior director of software development and engineering at Comcast, of the hires they’re in need of.
So if you’re a developer, ride the wave, baby. Know how to nail the technical interview so you can show off exactly what you’re able to do, and make an effort to highlight some desirable soft skills — like decisiveness, adaptability, and communications skills — as well the ones that make you stand out from the competition. “I want a well-rounded engineer with hard technical skills, but also really great communication skills. Someone who can get their point across and break it down for a variety of audiences, someone who can collaborate with a cross-functional team and innovate,” shares Sant.
That said, companies obviously need more than engineers: Employers cited sales, product management, operations, digital and growth marketing, and business and strategy as other in-demand roles.
Regardless of your specialty, however, the quality of the hour is cross-disciplinary. Employers want to know that you can not only collaborate with a team of people from different departments, but that you can think like them to make working together easier and help your work fit in with larger company goals.
This comes down to learning about functions outside of your own. If you’re technical, look for ways to get involved with and learn more about the business at large. And if engineering’s not in your background — or future? You can still make an effort to know a little bit about the field. Take a free online course or look for opportunities to integrate learning tech into your current job.
Then, don’t miss the opportunity to share that knowledge with hiring managers; even a few quick resume lines about your experience or interest in a field different from your primary one can be enough to whet the hiring manager’s appetite.
3. Be obsessed with the company and the field
The most important quality we look for is a passion for our business: they know what we do and they are excited about the opportunity to come work with us.
— Stephani Martin, VP of people & culture at Boost Media
You probably want a job that’s about more than just the paycheck. Similarly, employers want to hire people who are there because they love what the company is doing — not just because they need any old job. We heard time and time again from employers just how critical it is to show off why you’re dying to work for them, specifically.
How can you do this without coming off as a superfan or stalker? You don’t need to show up wearing company swag, tweet at the CEO every day or spend the interview gushing about the product. Instead, show off how much you love the company by using your knowledge of it to give a sense of how you’d step into the role. For example, you might mention a time you used the product and a challenge you had with it — and describe how you think you could alleviate that in your role.
“Doing this shows the hiring manager you’re interested in not only the brand, but also working for the brand. You understand the problems, needs and voice, and you have the skills needed to turn that knowledge into results,” says The Muse‘s Robyn Melhuish.
But you should also have interest — and ideally expertise! — in the industry you’re applying to at large. For example, you may love the idea of working for HBO based on your obsession with Game of Thrones, but can you bring enough insider knowledge to help them succeed? “We recommend that all candidates do their research around industry trends before coming in to interview for any position,” says a talent acquisition specialist at HBO. “It’s great to be familiar with HBO shows, but having a depth of knowledge around the industry as a whole is key. Being able to articulate the bigger picture or sharing thoughts on how a company can stay ahead and innovate helps candidates stand out.”
The ideal hire for a company is someone who’s an expert both in her craft and in the field she’s applying it to, so if you’re not already keeping up with industry reading, researching what competitors are doing, engaging with experts on social media and regularly talking shop with like-minded folks, start now! It will give you great talking points to help you prove you’re in the know during the interview, and also show hiring managers your dedication to the industry when they inevitably Google you.
4. Show you’re self-driven but can also play nice on a team
The ideal candidate sees the value in collaboration and can stand behind the belief that everyone has experience that you can learn from.
— Terrell Sledge, technical recruiter at Sailthru
Today, everyone needs to be an entrepreneur — or at least have the mindset of one — and companies want to hire people who are going to take ownership of projects without having to be babysat every step of the way. And this isn’t just a philosophy of startups that need people like this to survive — larger organizations are embracing the entrepreneurial ideas of moving faster and innovating more, too. “It is all about ownership versus administration,” shares Sledge of Sailthru. “Candidates who lead the charge, having innovated, designed and architected systems, deployed setups, etc. are exactly what we are looking for.”
To show this off to hiring managers, you’ll want to make sure to highlight three things: the fact that you’re a self starter, your capacity for creative thinking and your ability to work in a fast-paced environment with a lot on your plate. Career specialist Aja Frost has tips for highlighting each of these qualities in your resume; you can also pull out anecdotes that exemplify these traits in your cover letter and interview answers. Was there a time you noticed a problem, came up with a creative solution and then took the initiative to implement it in addition to your other work? Make sure you share that story.
But just because you can do things on your own doesn’t mean you always should, and seeing as many companies we talked to attributed their most creative ideas to collaboration, they want to be absolutely sure that you’ll be great at working on teams to make amazing things happen.
In fact, some companies value this so much that they’ll specifically test for it in the interview. ThoughtWorks, a software design company based in San Francisco, for example, gives candidates a pair programming challenge with a current employee. This exercise “serves the purpose of allowing us to understand whether a candidate works collaboratively and how they react to feedback,” shares Laura Nash, recruitment marketing manager. “A candidate that is excited about feedback and is able to adapt as they go demonstrates the open-mindedness and passion we desire.”
So, make sure to show off your team-playership, too. when talking about a big success you had, make sure to mention the other people you collaborated with; when talking about a time you failed, explain the experience of getting feedback from you boss and how you took that moving forward. Oh, and be nice to everyone you meet, from the people in the elevator with you to the receptionist. This is a basic — but telling — sign to employers of how you’ll treat your colleagues day to day.
5. Show passion for your work and your personal life
We also place a lot of emphasis on what a candidate does outside of work, what their hobbies and pastimes are, and their volunteer activities.
— David O’Connor, senior recruiting manager at Dolby
Companies these days want passionate, inspired employees — not ones who are just clocking in and out. And few things are better determiners of that than truly loving the work that you do.
If that’s not how you feel about jobs you’re applying to, it might be worth considering a career pivot. But if you do, then let it show! Let yourself get genuinely excited when talking about the job. Let yourself geek out when talking through a particularly tough problem in the technical interview or when presetting ideas for community strategy. Real enthusiasm is obvious — and energizing to hiring managers — so don’t feel like you need to stifle it in the name of being “professional.”
Also, show off ways you engage with your career of choice even outside what’s expected of you in your 9-to-5. “Things like writing books, speaking at conferences, or maintaining a blog show us that a candidate is really invested in tech, and it’s more than just a job,” shares Laura Nash, recruitment marketing manager at ThoughtWorks. One easy-but-effective approach: Create an eye-catching personal website that shares some of your related side projects, speaking gigs or volunteer work in addition to your on-the-job accomplishments. “Think ‘show’ instead of ‘tell’ whenever possible: share YouTube videos of a talk you led or a link to a working application you created,” adds Nash.
Of course, in a world where culture and tight-knit relationships are increasingly important to companies, it’s important for the people interviewing you to like you as a person, to want to bring you into their tribe. So they want to learn a little bit about you outside of your work, too! So learn how to be professional — without being boring or totally stifling your personality — in an interview!
“Don’t focus too much on conventional interviewing wisdom which may advise candidates to save personal anecdotes for the end — or to avoid sharing personal stories at all,” says Kimberly Eyhorn, director of global talent acquisition at HomeAway. “Just remember to always bridge the conversation back to your outstanding skills and experience. In a situation where several qualified candidates bring similar levels of value to the table, a hiring manager may be more likely to choose the applicant with whom they had a particularly memorable conversation.”
6. Be specific about your successes and failures
Candidates need to know how to show that they can not only produce results, but how they measure and define success. I’d recommend candidates take a look at past accomplishments and be able to concisely describe how and why they were successful, and back it up with metrics and data points.
— Kristy Sundjaja, chief of staff and global head of People Group at LivePerson
Obviously companies want to understand how you’re going to help them succeed, so it’s Job Search 101 to describe your most impressive achievements in your resume and interviews — and make sure to get specific!
Companies don’t just want to hear that you succeeded; they want a sense of the real results you achieved and the steps you took to get there. So don’t just say “I launched a major product” or whatever the success may be — tell the full story. Explain how, the first time you were in charge of a major product launch yourself, you knew you would feel successful if you didn’t just get it out on time, but early, so you dove in immediately, made sure to delegate work smartly and managed to launch a week ahead of schedule. Bonus points if you can quantify these accomplishments to prove you did what you said you did, and did it well.
On the other hand, if you’ve only succeeded and never failed, companies are going to worry about whether you’ll be willing to push yourself (and the company) to try new things. Laura Nash at ThoughtWorks shares, “While we’re always happy to hear of a candidate’s success, the more telling tales that are often skipped are examples of failure… Understanding how someone has learned from a failed attempt at something big and exciting is more interesting to us than a project delivered on-time and on-budget.”
So when faced with a question about your failures, don’t shy away from it. Instead, as we’ve proposed before, pick a real failure, quickly explain what happened, and then spend most of your time talking about how you examined the failure afterward to learn from your mistakes, how you incorporated those lessons moving forward, and how those failures were ultimately able to lead you to other successes down the road.
7. Be just confident enough
The perfect candidate is confident, not only in what they already know but in their capacity to learn something new.
— Terrell Sledge, technical recruiter at Sailthru
To make a hiring manager feel confident in you as a candidate, you need to feel confident in yourself and show it! This isn’t just about working through your pre-interview jitters (we hear some power posing can help with that) — it’s about being assured of your skills and your experience and prepared to speak candidly about your areas of growth.
If you tend to hate talking about yourself, we get it — very few of us spend an hour just talking about our accomplishments. If this is you, take career expert Suzanne Gelb’s advice and just think about confidently reporting the facts. “When you feel confident and good about yourself, you don’t need to magnify your accomplishments or diminish other people’s great work. With a healthy sense of self-pride, you can simply report the facts. No flourishes. No stretching the truth. Just stating who you are and what you’ve done, plain and simple,” she says.
Not only will this hopefully help you overcome some fears, it will help you avoid the other end of the spectrum: sounding like you’re cocky or bragging. Companies don’t want someone who thinks they know everything — they want people who are humble about their limitations and excited to learn and grow past them. So don’t be confident to the point of being a know-it-all!
If the interviewer starts talking about something you don’t know, don’t try and fake that you have a background with it — admit that you’ve never heard of that before and ask him or her to explain. When asked about about your biggest weakness, don’t just say something like “perfectionism” and try to move on — share a real challenge you’ve struggled with and ways you’re looking to improve it. If you’re in a technical interview and the hiring manager questions your way of doing things, don’t just push her off — confidently explain your thinking, but also ask how she would have approached the problem.
“Certain skills can be taught, but you have to exhibit the willingness to stretch yourself and to discover your full potential,” adds Kristy Sundjaja, chief of staff and global head of People Group at LivePerson.
8. Focus on your future and don’t worry too much about your past
[The perfect candidate] is looking forward to what they hope to accomplish next, while maintaining a personal standard of excellence in what they are working on at present.
— Terrell Sledge, technical recruiter at Sailthru
Yes, companies are hiring you to help them do things and go places, but they also want to understand how this job is going to help you go places and achieve your goals. After all, an engaged employee — one who’s developing professionally consistently on the job — is more likely to stay around for years to come.
And while, you shouldn’t spend your entire application explaining why this job would be so great for your career (the focus there should be on how you can help the company), have a sense of your goals and how this job will fit into them. You can mention this in your cover letter, but it’s going to be more powerful during the interview, when you can weave it into questions such as “Tell me about yourself,” “Where do you see yourself in five years?” and “Why are you leaving your current job?” When it’s your turn to ask questions, ask something like “How does the organization support your professional development and career growth?” to show that it’s something you’re really interested in.
And if you have a winding career path that doesn’t exactly make sense with the future you envision for yourself, there’s good news for you — hiring managers are increasingly open to hiring great people, even if they don’t have exactly the background they expected.
“I like candidates who haven’t had one straight path in their career,” says Stephani Martin, VP of people & culture at Boost Media. “A dynamic work history shows that they are willing to try new things and seek opportunities outside of their comfort zone.”
Learn how to spin your career change in your favor during your job search, focusing on showing the hiring manager all the things we’ve talked about so far — your transferrable skills, your adaptability, your past successes in a variety of fields, the cross-disciplinary thinking you bring to the table — and then lean into your varied past, knowing that you’re showing off the best of what you have to offer the company.
“The perfect candidate will have a combination of strong technical skills, a sense of pride and ownership in his or her work and a desire to work on a team of highly skilled, passionate people in an effort to make an impact on the business,” sums up Tom Aurelio, SVP of people & culture at Priceline.com — oh, and all the the other things mentioned above. We know it might feel like a lot, but it’s a competitive market, and the more of these qualities you’re able to show off, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to land your dream job.
Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.